In ‘Iron John,’ Robert Bly says the true radiant energy in the male does not hide in, reside in, or wait for us in the feminine realm, nor in the macho/John Wayne realm, but in the magnetic field of the deep masculine. Ascending into excitement does not give us the key to the Wild Man either, he adds.
No stubble, I’m afraid, or lumberjack beard, washboard abs, or cross-fit training will do the trick.
So where in hell is the key?
It all depends on the door you are seeking to open. It depends on your definition of “Wild.”
It seems to me that what we men are searching for is simply the sense of being truly alive… to feel our whole being burning with radiant, passionate intensity.
As it is, most burn out without ever having been on fire. Our erotic energy – rightly defined as ardent desire – is sapped by the demands of our careers, meaningless jobs, the rat-race, the office skullduggery, the pressure to compete or conform.
We are also extremely bored.
‘Freed’ from the daily survival pressures our hunter-gatherer ancestors once faced, we now live far removed from the bloody floor of life’s slaughterhouse and have grown soft.
“Contemporary capitalism is prodigiously productive, said philosopher Alan Watts. “But the imperative that drives it is not productivity. It is to keep boredom at bay. Where affluence is the rule, the chief threat is the loss of desire. With wants so quickly sated, the economy soon comes to depend on the manufacture of ever more exotic vices. What is new is not that prosperity depends on stimulating demand. It is that it cannot continue without inventing new vices. The health of the economy has thus come to depend on the manufacture of transgression. New vices are prophylactics against the loss of desire. They are antidotes to boredom.”
Some men try to stave off boredom by feats of extreme endurance, inviting risk to quicken their pulse with a rush of dopamine. Others default to pornography, seeking ecstasy through fantasy in the dark and lonely theater of their minds, or by achieving hollow victories while numbing their senses through video games. Some simply become dispassionate and self-absorbed.
“The dispassionate, post-modern, cool man is the antithesis of the phallic male,” wrote Sam Keen in Fire in the Belly. “No passion, no standing forth, no risk, no Eros, no drive to enrich history. Nor is the new-age man who is self-absorbed in his own feelings and committed only to personal growth a candidate for heroism. It is an illusion to believe that the virility men have lost can be recovered by anything except a new vocational passion.”
Men must be full of thunder and lightning, not dispassionate spectators or cynics, Keen added. Virility, he said, has always been measured by a man’s willingness to hear and respond to the calling of his age.
I assure you there are enough battles to be fought in today’s world to satisfy the hunger for danger, risk, adventure, and purpose of the most daring and indefatigable warriors.
A quick look at today’s media landscape, however, presents us with movie stars portraying maudlin adult men stuck in perpetual adolescence, unable or unwilling to make and honor commitments to women or to any greater cause other than their own hedonistic, immature, and solipsistic selves. Younger role models, on the other hand, promise instant masculine power simply by growing a steel-blue stubble and developing washboard abs.
“Brave men are vertebrates; they have their softness on the surface and their toughness in the middle. But these modern cowards are all crustaceans; their hardness is all on the cover and their softness is inside.” —G.K. Chesterton
Most of today’s superheroes are no better. "There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday," said psychologist Sharon Lamb, PhD, distinguished professor of mental health at University of Massachusetts-Boston. "Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic, and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. When not in superhero costume, these men, like Ironman, exploit women, flaunt bling, and convey their manhood with high-powered guns."
Tough, perhaps, or savage, not Wild; not within the magnetic field of the deep masculine Robert Bly spoke about, which is created through a combination of the energies of the fierce inner Warrior and the Lover in men.
Vulnerable, sensitive, and incarnate - intimately connected to the Earth and to his body and emotions - the Lover shudders in the face of suffering. This visceral reaction activates the Warrior energy and engages man in a transpersonal commitment to change the course of history; to right the wrongs; to slay the dragons of injustice.
That’s the key to the Wild Man… the fierce gentleman… the way of the “swift and majestic men” poet Walt Whitman hailed in his ‘Song of the Open Road’:
Enjoyers of calms of seas and storms of seas,
Contemplators of tufts, blossoms, shells of the shore,
Dancers at wedding-dances, kissers of brides, tender helpers of children, bearers of children,
Soldiers of revolts!
All the passion, adventure, and ecstasy men yearn for is to be found on that open road.
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